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Is there any music that the Russian pianist Alexei Lubinov can’t play exceedingly well? He can boast recordings and performances of twentieth century composers such as John Cage, Stockhausen, Boulez and Ligeti and Schӧnberg and at the same time is equally versed in the music of the classical and romantic periods. He has specialized in period instrument performances of early music and performed Debussy on early twentieth century Beckstein and Steinway pianos for their different colours. In recent years, he has devoted much of his time to the fortepiano and the music of Mozart. 

​It was fitting therefore that last night’s performance for Music Toronto, Lubinov’s first in Toronto in many years, was an eclectic combination of Mozart and Beethoven on fortepiano followed by the early twentieth century composers Stravinsky and Debussy on the St. Lawrence Centre’s New York Steinway. Seeing two instruments on stage as one entered the hall was a delightful surprise. Even more delightful were the varied colourful effects he achieved. On both instruments, Lubinov created music that went far past technique and razzle-dazzle to reach into the soul of each composer.

Mozart once wrote that his music should "flow like oil". Indeed, there was a generous amount of oil applied to both Sonata No. 9 in D, K.311/284c and Adagio in B Minor, K. 540. The bright, cheerful Sonata and the mournful Adagio were wonderfully complimentary. The opening light-hearted sounds of the sonata played on the delicate sounding fortepiano silenced the audience. The music was fresh and exciting. Even with the instrument’s limited dynamic range, Lubinov made the music incredibly expressive. One could clearly imagine being in a salon with Mozart performing his own compositions.

What followed was Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 7 in D, Op. 10 No. 3. This four movement piece was full of dramatic surprises and sudden shifts. The first movement was played at a pace that few could possibly manage, yet it made sense on this instrument. Lubinov made each sforzando a special moment. The tragic second movement was deeply moving, played subtlety and with subdued elegance.

Following intermission, Lubinov switched instruments and centuries. Stravinsky’s Piano Sonata in D was new for me. As it opened with a running triplet figure, I was reminded of the opening bars of his Symphony of Psalms. But the similarities ended when the sustained ‘C’ announced the work’s key. There was a vibrant energy that took one as far as possible away from tonality without becoming atonal, only to bring the first movement to a very satisfying concluding cadence. The three movement work was less than ten minutes in duration and was an uplifting prelude to what followed.

Lubinov concluded the program with nine of Debussy’s Préludes, Book 1. For me, this was the highlight in an evening of highlights. Lubinov's playing was like a paint-brush stroking Debussy’s canvas to create magical images. It left me spellbound. The delicacy and dignity of ancient greek dancers in Danceuses de Delphes and the playfulness of Les collines dAnacapri contrasted with the sonorous church bells of La Cathédrale engloutie. This was charmed playing. The prelude entitled Minstrels was delivered with a wonderful sense of  humour, its jazzy syncopation derived from ragtime.

Lubinov didn’t need encores to demonstrate that at seventy-three years of age, he is still in the front rank of the world’s great pianists. But by adding Chopin’s Barcarole and Schubert’s Impromptu Op. 90 No. 2 he turned the evening into a romantic love-fest. This concert was indeed one of the highlights of Toronto’s 2017/18 musical calendar.

Music Toronto’s season continues on Thursday February 22 at 8pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts with a return engagement by the Apollon Musagѐte Quartet. The Polish string quartet will perform music by Haydn, Arensky and Grieg.

Pianist Alexei Lubimov; Photo credit: François Sechet

Review by David Richards

​Toronto ON February 7th 2018

Russian pianist Alexei Lubimov provides an eclectic musical treat for Music Toronto's audience

Pianist Alexei Lubimov